Sunday, January 3, 2016

Book Notes: Superforecasting

The Art and Science of Prediction

by Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner

In reading this book, or trying to, I realized something. My life is not conducive to paper books anymore. On my phone, I've never struggled to finish a book, being able to read during odd moments and in bed when the lights are out. But when limited to a physical copy, it took me 2 months to get 100 pages in. I am still interested in the book, but have accepted that, at this point in my life, I will not finish it. Because I had to look at the physical copy to write my review, it took me another month to get to this post.

Apart from my problems with the format, I thought it a bit slow paced, but I have nothing to compare it to, having not read another "serious book about psychological research" as the author himself describes it. Granted, it is a non-fiction book about a forecasting tournament, but I felt like it kept circling around the same information, like a newspaper article:

My team beat the government experts!

My team beat the government experts by themselves,

My team beat the government experts by themselves, then in teams!

My team beat the government experts by themselves, then in teams, with a bit of training!

And so on.

Relevant to the subject matter, I realized that I will probably never choose to spend an hour or two a day reading the news about geopolitical events in order to be semi- to mostly accurate about what will happen in the future. Not my gig. I'm more likely to have my nose buried in a book about the past. On that note, his remarks about the history of medicine were terribly illuminating. I wonder what else we accept untested.

As a Christian, I did find it fascinating that no matter the training and intelligence, no human is ever completely accurate. This makes God's test of prophets, that what they say about the future be 100% true (Deut 18:22), a sound one.

Favorite Quotes:

Our desire to reach into the future will always exceed our grasp.

"I have been struck by how important measurement is to improving the human condition," Bill Gates wrote, "You can achieve incredible progress if you set a clear goal and find a measure that will drive progress toward that goal... This may seem basic, but it is amazing how often it is not done and how hard it is to get right."

...broadly speaking, superforecasting demands thinking that is open-minded, careful, curious, and--above all--self-critical. It also demands focus. The kind of thinking that produces superior judgment does not come effortlessly. Only the determined can deliver it reasonably consistently, which is why our analyses have consistently found commitment to self-improvement to be the strongest predictor of performance.

Machines may get better at "mimicking human meaning," and thereby better at predicting human behavior, but "there's a difference between mimicking and reflecting meaning and originating meaning," Ferrucci said. That's a space human judgment will always occupy.

In fact, in science, the best evidence that a hypothesis is true is often an experiment designed to prove the hypothesis is false, but which fails to do so.

But then the train of history hit a curve, and as Karl Marx once quipped, when that happens, the intellectuals fall off.

Stepping outside ourselves and really getting a different view of reality is a struggle. But foxes are likelier to give it a try. Whether by virtue of temperament or habit or conscious effort, they tend to engage in the hard work of consulting other perspectives.

"All models are wrong, the statistician George Box remarked, "but some are useful."

I received a free copy from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest opinion.

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